Hacking the World in 2009: Google Street View, “Smart Stuff,” and Wikiculture.

Mon, Dec 29, 2008

Google Street View Hacking

This Google Street View Hack (via @timoreilly) will get my nomination for a Hacking the World Award this year, if there is such an award.

A parade (the screenshot opening this post), a marathon, a mad-scientists laboratory, a sword fight, and more (see The Infonaut Blog) were staged all along the route of the Google Street View truck by artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley working in conjunction with the local community and Google Street View.

The Google Street View Hack suggests at a myriad of possibilities for anyone with their eye on the prize for a great world hack for 2009.  In my mind’s eye, I imagine the Google Street View truck’s trek across the planet triggering local environmental street action carnivals wherever it goes.

Local energy conservationists, “passive house” architects, retrofitters, could turn the arrival of  Google Street View into an occasion to create projects for a sustainable future – a traveling StreetCamp (see my post on HomeCamp ’08 here).  As Google Street View intends, surely, to go everywhere,  this would be a global hack for sustainable living that crossed the bounds of the physical and the virtual.  And the vast public record of Google Street View would became a generative engine and global resource for sustainable living.

Working together on the noble aim of sustainable living

- this is my (and many other people’s) big theme for 2009.

A Hacking the World award should also go to  Pachube – “patching the planet” – for demonstrating that instrumenting the world is not merely a Sci Fi  fantasy anymore.  By facilitating “interaction between remote environments, both physical and virtual,”  Pachube demonstrates (see diagram here) how we have only just begun to dip our toes into the many new opportunities we have to work together to save energy, rethink our culture of consumption, and to reboot our failing economy under a new sustainable operating system.

Energy awareness unlike the glut of information we have in entertainment and games suffers from a dearth of information. We really have very little idea about what we are consuming and the waste we are producing.  So more Hacking the World Awards should go to projects like AMEE – creating the world’s energy meter, and Wattzon – your personal energy meter, for giving us new ways to understand and work with energy data.

Many people and organizations, given the information, will change their behaviours. But the cultural changes necessary for sustainable living are deep and old habits die hard (see this disturbing report on the recent return to SUV buying in November as soon as gas prices fell!).

A  Small Community of Volunteers Can Bring Change on a Global Scale

Picture above by Benjamin Ellis, “HomeCamp – The Throng,” from his Flickr stream.

One of my favorite “instrumenting the world” projects to date and another top contender for a Hacking the World Award is HomeCamp ‘08 (see my previous post).  HomeCamp brings together a community of creators and enthusiasts of  “smart stuff,” creating a wikiculture for the noble cause of sustainable living.

The key to whether “instrumenting the world” empowers people and changes our lives for the better will be the capacity our systems of instrumentation have for what Jonathan Zittrain in The Future of the Internet: And How To Stop It:,” defines as generativity, i.e.:  “the system’s capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences” ( Zittrain, 2008).

Generativity is the “secret sauce” that makes the difference between, for example, Wikipedia and its all but forgotten predecessor – the “written by experts” Nupedia.

Jonathan Zittrain writes:

Wikipedia stands for more than the ability of people to craft their own knowledge and culture.  It stands for the idea that people of diverse backgrounds can work together on a common project with, whatever its other weaknesses, a noble aim - bringing such knowledge to the world. (p.147)

At Web 2.0 Summit, Jonathan Hochman (Known as Jehochman on Wikipedia), shared with me his insider perspective as a Wikipedia administrator. The full interview with Jonathan is later in this post.

Jonathan comments on the role of wikiculture in sustainable living:

“Sustainable Living requires everything to become more efficient. Incentives need to line up with conservation priorities. This requires a radical change to the way we govern ourselves. Command economies, whether commanded by politicians or capital, lead to huge inefficiencies.”

And surely, if we have learned anything in 2008, we have learned that very bad things happen when the complex systems of modern life are left in the hands of a few people motivated solely by the urge to make profit.

Hacking Design and Planning Processes for Real Estate and Transportation with Virtual Worlds

This great machinima by Azwaldo Vilotta shows the progress so far on the Wikitecture 4.0 project, ‘Re-Inventing the Virtual Classroom’ for the University of Alabama.

Though still a niche market Virtual Worlds are growing at a steady pace.  As I mentioned in my previous post, energy hungry avatars themselves will be a target for optimization in 2009.  But as my personal power usage breakdown from Wattzon shows, cutting down the amount of flying I do in 2009 would be far more effective in reducing my carbon footprint than deciding not to log into Virtual Worlds!

Note: Read Write Web’s recent post, “Report Enterprise Virtual Worlds More Effective Than Web Conferencing.  Also check out Web.Alive, and Immersive WorkSpaces and Dusan Writer’s post on “ThinkBalm,The Immersive Internet and Collaborative culture,”

My friend Melanie Swan points out in her Top Ten Computing Trends for 2009, that Virtual Worlds not only have the power of the 3 Cs (communication, collaboration and commerce) but they are fast expanding into rapid prototyping, simulation and data visualization.

My Hacking the World, 2008, Awards for Virtual World innovation would go to three potentially world changing projects for sustainable living:

1) Studio Wikitecture, (see “Reinventing the Virtual Classroom” for The University of Alabama).

2) Oliver Goh’s work on “The Path to Sustainable Real Estate.”

3) Encitra, a company recently co-founded by Crista Lopes and Christer Lindstrom focused on improving urban planning processes, starting with transportation, using virtual worlds (see my previous post here for more).

The latter two projects are being developed in OpenSim – the open source project that should also get a Hacking The World Award for creating an open modular architecture for virtual worlds that is unleashing all these new possibilites for integrating physical and virtual worlds.

The 2008 code contributions to OpenSim of special note re world hacking are Crista Lopes’ OpenSim Hypergrid – see Justin CC’s blog for full details on “What is the hypergrid?,” and David Levine’s work (IBM), in collaboration with Linden Lab (see Architecture Working Group), on interoperability (see my earlier post here).

Both these projects expand the frontiers of interoperability for virtual worlds although they “slice the problem from different ends,” as David Levine put it.  The emphasis in the LL/IBM approach is on security so assets are not moving yet.  In Crista’s solution you can have assets but the security issues are not addressed yet. But this work is vital to expanding the usefulness of virtual worlds and both projects should get Hacking the World Awards IMHO.

I asked Jon Brouchoud (full interview upcoming) what he thought were Studio Wikitecture’s most important successes to date:

“I think the greatest success has been in proving, on some level, that everyone has important knowledge that can inform and improve the design of a building, not just architects.  If we can continue building on that success, I hope we can eventually start to hack the traditional design process, and find ways to harness the wealth of knowledge held by the general public, instead of ignoring or avoiding it, as is most often the case.”

Harnessing the “Smart Stuff” to the Noble Cause of Sustainable Living

Robert Scoble’s, The Interview of the Year: Tim O’Reilly, is not to be missed. Tim O’Reilly discusses the key trends for 2009 that are bubbling up at O’Reilly Media.  And, Yes, Tim O’Reilly, as the guru of Hacking the World, gets the “Distinguished Thinker – Hacking The World Award of 2008!”

Tim O’Reilly’s trend list includes:

1) big data- vast peer produced data bases in the cloud accessible by mobile devices

2) “smart stuff” – sensors and robotics and hacking on stuff for fun and not for profit

3) Green Tech

4) Advances in Biological/Life Sciences.

And, in Robert Scoble’s interview, there is a nice titbit of history re his attendance of early Foo Camps.  Foo Camp is the wiki of O’Reilly conferences and a lineage holder to my favorite Hacking the World event of 2008, HomeCamp ‘08.

But what will be the “secret sauce” for these big ideas  – the generative engines that harness to the noble cause of sustainable living these vast peer produced data bases and all the creative “smart stuff” hackers across the globe are creating?  What will motivate the mass adoption of Green Tech and sustainable living?

What can Wikipedia teach us about how generative systems and bottom up approaches can change the world?

Jimmy Wales (interview coming soon!)  writes in his recent personal appeal for support for Wikipedia.

At its core, Wikipedia is driven by a global community of more than 150,000 volunteers – all dedicated to sharing knowledge freely. Over almost eight years, these volunteers have contributed more than 11 million articles in 265 languages. More than 275 million people come to our website every month to access information, free of charge and free of advertising.

To answer questions on a how to create a successful wikiculture for sustainable living, an insider’s view of Wikipedia may be a good place to start.

Interview With Jonathan Hochman on Wikipedia.

The picture on the left is from the Wikipedia article, Gamma-ray Burst, that Jonathan Hochman is currently working on.  It is a drawing of a massive star collapsing to form a black hole. Energy released as jets along the axis of rotation forms a gamma-ray burst. Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller/NSF

The picture on the right, Jonathan at Web 2.0 Summit, is taken by me. Jonathan was part of the, Defending Web 2.0 from Virtual Blight, panel.

Known as Jehochman on Wikipedia, he serves as an administrator and as a leader in addressing online harassment, disruption and sock puppetry. He is also the founder of Hochman Consultants, an Internet marketing consultancy, and the director of Search Engine Marketing New England, a regional conference series.

Tish: Second Life and Wikipedia are the two great experiments in collaborative co-creation what do they have to teach us about the future of the internet?

Jonathan: Yes, Wikipedia and Second Life are key social spaces.  Some people have been seeing Second Life as the beginning of Web 3.0 – a wrap around environment where you can almost experience another life. Wikipedia is sort of another example of this.

All the problems that exist in the real world are mirrored right into that little universe.  For example, the Armenians and the Turks are at each others throats and the Japanese and the Koreans are going at it, the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the “Troubles”  … all the conflicts are imported into Wikipedia.  People are fighting over the content of these articles. They want to have it their way because these are first ranked in Google and they have a big impact in public opinion.

There was a huge fight on the waterboarding article a while back. Some guys from Little Green Footballs – they are a very conservative reactionary type of media. They are trying to change the article to say that water boarding might not be torture – change it to say it is probably not so bad.  Crazy stuff. They were trying to water it down.  And it is very clear, from every source out there, that waterboarding is torture.  We did a study and there are 115 sources that say waterboarding is torture. You simulate drowning – you simulate killing someone – that is a violation of the Geneva Convention and everything else. People were fighting, fighting, fighting!

One of the things I did was to try and clear people out who were being disruptive.  We actually had to go to arbitration over that article. It is like the supreme court of Wikipedia. There is a panel of 15 arbitrators.  They hear the case. There is evidence, arguments and decisions. It is really like a simulated law suit. You get all the experience of a simulated law suit with the real threat that you could be banned. If they don’t like what you are doing they can actually ban you or restrict you from topics.

So it is really fascinating how this social space Wikipedia becomes a very real platform though it is in a virtual world for real world disputes.  Most disputes are over the definition of things.  If you have a you suit most disputes are about how things are defined. And Wikipedia has become the defacto definition of things in the real world.  People want to know what are “The Troubles.”  If you go to Wikipedia you find out  The Troubles are a dispute over Northern Ireland.  What the article says has a profound impact on public opinion.

Tish: So who is on the court of Wikipedia?

Jonathan: They are volunteers. these people work two or three hours a day to run this court.  There are all kinds of projects.  There is a WikiProject Spam which has people who can write computer programs to statistically analyze Wikipedia projects – not only Wikipedia. But all of them are looking at the links and reporting them and banning those people who are abusing or gaming the system.

Tish: You were on the Stopping Virtual Blight Panel at Web 2.0 Summit – what are the most important things to think about on this topic?

Jonathan: Yes we were talking about how to defend the web against virtual blight. The thing I find interesting about Wikipedia is that because it is the eighth largest web site and possibly the second largest web site comprised of user generated content after YouTube. The problems that exist in Wikipedia are larger and more detailed than any other site.  For whatever problem someone has for their social media site or their Web 2.0 site these problems already exist in Wikipedia and the solutions are there and they are transparent. You can actually see the history of what’s been done.

If there is, for example, a problem on Digg – some problem with sock puppetry or vote stacking – it happens, it goes away.  You don’t get full disclosure.  With Wikipedia you can actually go in and look at a dispute and watch it unfold.  You can watch the arbitration cases that are filed, the arguments, the decisions, the logic, the rationale.  You can see the successes and the failures and the different things people have tried to control blight. For example, we tried to resolve this dispute one way but it was a disaster, so we have tried something else and that worked.

Wikipedia is a large laboratory for social media. Wikipedia and the large universe around it Wiki and WikiMedia projects that individuals, enterprises and put together like Commons.  Wikimedia Commons is a repository of publicly licensed images that anyone can take and reuse. They have sound and they have video, and all of this stuff is being stitched together now.

So if you go to the article on Obama  you can probably now hear his acceptance speech because that is public domain – its been stitched into the article.  If you go to the article on Richard Nixon – his resignation speech – you may even hear his conversation with the astronauts when they landed on the moon.  So this becomes a giant repository of all our culture and knowledge.  When I design a website, a lot of times I go to Commons to find images I use for free.  I don’t want to pay for an image I can get for free. 

Tish: And the Commons images get contextualized in Wikipedia too.

Jonathan: Some of these articles are fascinatingly detailed. If you want a quick summary of the Dr. Strangelove, the article is fantastic.  It is enjoyable, a pleasure to read.  I was reading about S.A. Andree’s North Pole balloon expedition of 1897. Some guys from Sweden decided to fly a balloon over the North pole.  They managed to get aloft then they flew over the icepack for 24 hrs then they crashed.

They unloaded their stuff and hiked back across the ice toward the island they had launched from. They ended up being on the ice pack for three months before they finally holed up in an ice cave and starved to death.  There weren’t found until thirty years later!  There was a camera with these guys and the frozen pictures taken 30 yrs earlier.  They developed the film and those pictures are now on Wikipedia.  It is just a fascinating thing!

Tish: Do you see real time collaboration beginning to play more of a role in Wikipedia – whether virtual worlds or just voice/IM — how could real time collaboration change the wikipedia editing process?

Jonathan:  The Presidential candidate articles were being edited very rapidly yesterday. There are certain real time problems.  Some of the more interesting problems are when you get two administrators who “get into it.” One administrator says I am blocking this user and the other one says I am unblocking him, and the other one “NO I am blocking him!” And so on…… And everyone says, “Stop fighting. You are not allowed to do that!” And they both get their powers stripped. People do get very heated over the silliest things. Wikipedia does have some mailing lists attached and there are some IRC channels. So there are some real time elements.

Tish: What is the role of avatars in Wikipedia?

Jonathan: In Wikipedia you have a user page and many users are anonymous.  They create an avatar and they personalize it and show themselves in ways they want to show themselves through an avatar. In many ways it is a lot like Second Life.

Some users have created second accounts – or a humerous second account. Bishzilla – a Swedish lady who is in tremendous command of the English language and has a razor sharp wit.  She has created this secondary account – almost like in a baby language.  Her avatar is a dinosaur that is not very bright that goes around frying people. Bizarre what people do! People may be editing a topic like an interest they have – e.g. Pokemon that they don’t want associated with their professional avatar. Or people may be editing a topic about hot political issues.  There have actually been some death threats issued to people over stuff they have been putting into the encyclopedia.

Tish: So avatars are important in Wikipedia.

Jonathan: Absolutely because people may be going in and editing articles that they may not want their friends and family to know they are editing.  One editor may say to another, “Stop putting stuff in or I will come and kill you!” Well then we have to ban them.  We have to call the police.

Tish: Can you build reputations on multiple avatars?

Jonathan: You are allowed to use multiple avatars as long as they don’t cross paths.  You can’t have two avatars editing in the same area beacuse you are going to be giving yourself double weight commenting on a discussion.

Tish: How do you know when this is happening?

Jonathan: You can watch the style of a users editing.  You have to watch behavior.  And if you have enough evidence through behavior that suggests accounts are controlled by one person you can go and request a technical check.

There are some uses who are called Checkusers who are able to access information desired from the server logs and check the technical characteristics of these accounts to see if they are using the same IP address.

Tish: So if you want to understand avatar interaction on the web it helps to understand Wikipedia.

Jonathan: Yes it is a fantastic way to understand how avatars work in some aspects, and also how to deal with community dynamics.  We have some very strong willed people – people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s – who are very successful in business.  They have plenty of money and spare time and they are doing this as a hobby. And some of these people can really butt heads.  You can have a problem when you have an editor who has been writing fantastic articles but also happens to be rude and chew other people out and tell them to f**k off if they are not behaving. What do you do?

Tish: Sounds a bit like Second Life!

Jonathan: The person is a great contributor to the community but they are telling noobies to f**k off, so you can’t allow that.

What do you do?  Vested contributors are a major problem to some of these sites. They are vested in the community but they start misbehaving. You can’t block them, because if you block them there is a huge upsroar from all their friends and it causes a cataclysm.  It requires very careful diplomacy to deal with some of these situations.

Tish: How many Wikipedia volunteers are there now?

Jonathan: Think of a Venn Diagram – a big circle. The total number of contributors are about one million different people that contribute.  But there are probably about 5,000 active editors  that are consistently and regularly contributing.  And within that kernel there are fifteen hundred people that have administrator access and probably only eight hundred of them are active.  People have a natural life span with the community.  People come an typically stay for 6 months to 3 years.  Usually after that they become bored, disillusioned or get into a conflict with someone.  There is a natural tendency for people to stay for a while and move on. Some people stay longer, a few, but the majority will move on at some point.  So it is a lot of fresh faces moving in.

Tish: What lessons of trust does Wkipedia have to teach us about new projects like AMEE that aims to aggregate the world’s energy data?

Jonathan: Well you have to know who is releasing the data. Who is creating the data? The beauty of Wikipedia is that you have an edit history so you can see exactly who has done what.  So you can judge whether this person is trustworthy or not.  That’s a huge problem on the web today.  We don’t have enough identification information.  When you see a web page you don’t necessarily know when that page was created and by whom, or how many revisions it has had.  Sometimes you can glean information by checking it.  If you see typos and errors you may decide that that page probably didn’t receive as much attention as it should have, and probably it is not that good.

Typos are an interesting thing.  People always try to figure out how Google ranks web pages. Matt Cutts was here from Google today.  And he was talking about spam.  But Matt also did a blog post about how he was in an airport once, and how he has a policy – when you are reading a document as soon as you come to the first error just stop because if the author hasn’t taken the care to make everything correct, you don’t need to read it. So he was in the airport, there was a sign, he came to a typo and stopped reading it. Somehow he got in trouble for not reading the sign and not having the information.  But it is interesting to think whether Goggle is looking for for typos, misspellings, broken links and using that as a signal of quality to rank pages.

Tish: Aaaagh typos might bring down your page rank!!!  That certainly is a scary thought for a blogger like me who likes to write impossibly long posts that are hard to check………

categories: 3D internet, Ambient Devices, Ambient Displays, architecture of participation, Architecture Working Group, Carbon Footprint Reduction, culture of participation, CurrentCost, Ecological Intelligence, Energy Awareness, Energy Saving, home automation, home energy monitoring, home energy monitors, HomeCamp, Instrumenting the World, interoperability of virtual worlds, Linden Lab, message brokers and sensors, Metaverse, mirror worlds, Mixed Reality, MQTT and RSMB, Open Grid, open metaverse, open protocols for virtual worlds, open source, Open Source Virtual Worlds, open standards for virtual worlds, OpenSim, Paticipatory Culture, smart appliances, Smart Devices, Smart Planet, social media, sustainable living, sustainable mobility, virtual communities, Virtual HomeCamp, Virtual Meters, virtual world standards, Virtual Worlds, Web 2.0, Web Meets World, World 2.0

5 Comments For This Post

  1. Gregory Kohs Says:

    Jehochman seems like a nice enough guy, but I always wonder about a couple of things about him:

    (1) Do his clients and his employees know how much time he spends, fooling around on Wikipedia?

    (2) He once stated publicly on Wikipedia that I had a very close relationship with the company that runs, and that I was very interested in the maintenance of the article about them on Wikipedia. I had no such relationship and no such interest, so I was like, “WTF?” I called Hochman on the phone, and I asked, “What are you talking about?” And he said, “Are you willing to state for the record that you have no relationship with Orbitz?” And I said, “Yes, I have no relationship with them, and I don’t know where you dreamed up that I did!” So then he goes on Wikipedia and puts his conjecture down the “memory hole”, no apology, and no explanation for why he said that in the first place.

    He’s a strange little bird.

  2. Prokofy Neva Says:

    But all of the Wikinistas are strange birds, and one of the problems is that only a few of them get to be in charge, with no accountability.

    That’s why I think we should vote on all their entries:

    Hey, Wikipedia should join the social media revolution instead of perpetuating old-media “few to many” memes.

    Wikipedia is a grave evil.

  3. reader Says:

    I don’t understand why is troll Prokofy Neva allowed to wrote comments here. Prokofy Neva is banned with reason from most blogs and forums because of her hate and trolling.

  4. Dagan Says:

    Is there a way to locate someone locally to try this?

  5. Pace Says:

    Wow, this is a great overview of lots of important topics. I had no idea that there was so much going on behind the scenes on all these large-scale collaborative projects.

2 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Dusan Writer’s Metaverse » Virtual Worlds 2009: A Greener, Cleaner, Open Year Ahead Says:

    [...] The Bigger, Better, Cleaner World “The Throng” per Ugotrade [...]

  2. P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Conflict arbitration at the Wikipedia Says:

    [...] about an important aspect of peer governance, from an interview of Jonathan Hochman by Tisch [...]